Gambling, Religion, and the Bible

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The
recent discovery of casino records showing William Bennett's decade-long
gambling pattern has many of his admirers cringing and his detractors
celebrating. The news reports consistently allude to how his family-values
and Christian conservative values conflict with his casino actions
these past ten years.

Mr.
Bennett's religion is Catholic. With Bingo being available in many
Catholic parishes, as well as the idea of gambling not being looked
upon too aversely by that religion, Mr. Bennett is not being
inconsistent in his religion. Nevertheless, Mr. Bennett's admirers
cross the religion divide so much that he probably has more fundamentalists
in his camp (such as Southern Baptists) than Catholics. And the
fundamentalists are generally opposed to gambling — really opposed.

Mr.
Bennett faces a hard decision. He cannot afford to lose his conservative
audience and yet he is in real danger of doing so if he has not
lost it already. He certainly will pay a price for his gambling
far and above any losses he may have sustained in the casinos. As
a side note, the casinos are now scrambling to locate the source
of the leak; Park Place Entertainment, owners of Bally's and Paris
Resorts, were named as one of Bennett's locales. Those establishments
and the others Newsweek mentioned, who in the past prided themselves
in their players' privacy, now face a monumental public relations
scare (second only to Bennett's) when their more secretive players
make a decision whether to remain players there or to move to casinos
that honor the secrecy they've entrusted in those casinos.

Millions
Wagered, Millions Lost, How Much Won?

The
article describes how Bennett has lost as much as $8 million in
a ten-year period. The amount is certainly shocking to most who
cannot imagine such a loss. One must remember, however, that Bennett
is a high-income individual whose gross annual income probably rests
comfortably in the double-digit millions. Taken in that light, his
losses are not relatively very much for the man or his family.

More
critical to the amount he lost is how much he won but Newsweek shows
little energy in seeking to discover that amount. Absolutely no
mention was made of the winnings Bennett received during the decade.
He certainly didn't play $8 million over the past ten years without
a single win.

Each
casino must give a W-2G tax form on all wins over $1,199. In playing
more than $8 million through the high-limit machines he played,
Bennett would have received a very large number of W-2G tax forms
to offset some, all, or more than he lost. And he would have been
paid all wins under $1,199 without the tax record being given to
him.

Newsweek
stated that Bennett enjoys Video Poker. Playing Video Poker perfectly
on fair-returning machines nets 99.5% to 102% over time. That means
that, over the decade Bennett played, his $8 million wagered would
have returned him anywhere from $7.95 million to $8.16 million dollars
for the effort. In ten years time, therefore, he falls in the expected
range of losing a maximum of $50,000 to winning $160,000. For a
man who makes millions each year, these expected dollar returns
certainly does seem to support his claim that it was a relaxing
hobby he enjoyed 2 or 3 times per year.

Bennett's
own words, quoted by Newsweek, were, "Over 10 years, I'd say
I've come out pretty close to even." The expected return from
Video Poker would suggest that he was telling the truth.

Religious
Rights and Wrongs

Whether
he won, lost, and to what extent is not an issue to those who disagree
with what he did. They do not see the size of the sin as being as
important as the sin. The religions that frown on Bennett's actions
will be hard-pressed to forgive the man. After all, they had entrusted
him to abstain from these things in the first place and he pulled
this off for the past 10 years without their knowing. He can ask
their forgiveness and he may get it but their trust may not be so
fast to return. They will be likely to move on to other authors
when they see his books in the racks.

When
two Christian religions collide, the religion of the Left enjoys
the show very much indeed.

How
wrong was Bennett? Should he follow his Catholic religion? Should
he follow the fundamentalists who perhaps comprise the majority
of his audience?

Personally,
I don't care what either religion says. What is important to me
is what God says about the matter. He wrote the bestselling book
ever published. In it, He addresses money, risk, and financial issues
more than a few times.

Casting
of Lots

Without
a doubt, one of the most-quoted scriptures when the sin of gambling
arises is John 19:24:

"They
said therefore among themselves, u2018Let us not tear it, but cast
lots for it, whose it shall be,' that the Scripture might be
fulfilled…" (NKJV).

Debated
by scholars, exactly what is referred to when the Bible mentions
"casting of lots" is not conclusively agreed. Nevertheless,
the act certainly is related to some kind of game of chance, perhaps
the tossing of dice or the drawing of sticks of various lengths.
While He died on the Cross the Roman soldiers gambled for His clothing.

Nothing
good can be found in the soldiers' actions. They were wrong in what
they did.

The
question then must be asked, what comprised their sin? The stealing
of Christ's clothing was certainly a sin. Did they also sin for
gambling? One would think so from the number of people who reference
this passage against gambling.

One
way to interpret Scripture is to analyze other verses that seem
to make similar points. Perhaps other verses on a subject are clearer;
if so, then the context of the first verse can be clearer too. Can
one find the casting of lots elsewhere in Scripture?

Yes.
Acts 1:26 says this:

"And
they cast their lots, and the lot fell on Matthias. And he was
numbered with the eleven apostles." (NKJV)

No
Roman soldiers are casting the lots here. As a matter of fact, 11
of the men who walked the earth with Jesus Himself, eleven of His
very disciples, are the men casting lots here. Are they casting
lots for evil? Quite the opposite, they are casting lots to determine
who will become the twelfth disciple to replace Judas! To complete
the twelve holy men, the first eleven disciples cast lots and chose
Matthias.

What
admonition did God swiftly bring to these eleven? None. He seems
to approve of the act by allowing its use in His book without comment.
These are the twelve who will represent and spread the Gospel to
His twelve tribes of Israel. If they had acted wrongly in choosing
the twelfth member, He would have been the first to complain. One
must conclude that the act of casting lots is not a sin in itself.
One can extend that reasoning to support that games of chance are
not sinful in and of themselves.

Playing
for Money?

It
appears that Bill Bennett's family was unharmed financially by his
casino experiences. Although the stories omit this, perhaps his
wife was along with him when he ventured into them at times. Could
she have sat down next to him and waged a bit herself?

The
question now becomes, why are games of chance for financial gain
considered to be a sin by so many religions?

The
expected returns of Video Poker are fixed and not arguable. Even
casual players who practice a few hours before a casino trip hold
a huge advantage and can expect far more of a return over players
of almost all other games in casinos. Given Bennett's salary and
financial resources, and given his routinely-expected return from
Video Poker, it appears certain that he did not risk his family's
future. He says his bills are paid and they have no financial troubles.
His wife does not disagree.

If
he put gambling ahead of his family's safety and security, Bennett
would be in big trouble. If Bennett had risked his family's financial
certainty, whether he gambled with that money, invested in the stock
market, bought real estate, or simply spent too much on haircuts,
Bennett would be showing a love for money over that of his wife
and family and his addiction would cause him serious trouble and
the consequences should be severe. Paul writes in 1 Timothy 5:8:

"But
if anyone does not provide for his own, and especially for those
of his household, he has denied the faith and is worse than
an unbeliever."

But
the amount of his play, while at first seeming to be extraordinarily
high to most people, does not compromise his family's finances when
held under scrutiny.

Jesus
Himself makes it very clear that (unless spending the money to commit
a sin) a man can use his own money to do with as he pleases. Matthew
20:15 says clearly:

"Is
it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things?…"

If
Jesus says that a man can do with his own money what he wants, then
why do many Christians today want to trump Jesus' wisdom?

May
10, 2003

Greg
Perry [send him mail]
has written more books on computers than anyone else in the world.


     

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